17 April 2020
Hello the MLE,
Like me, have you ever wondered the meaning of that French painting Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters (ca. 1594)?
The woman with the light hair is Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France, and the other with her dark hair is her sister, the Duchess de Villars. They turn half towards the viewer as they sit in a bathtub lined with silk. The hand of the woman on the left pinches the nipple of the woman on the right, her index finger and thumb forming a perfect “C.”
What is going on here? Well, there are three interpretations…
1) A sexualized queer and incestuous scene
- In France during the 16-century, lesbian relationships were not completely unknown.
- We can assume the presence of female viewers as well as male, queer as well as straight.
- Throughout history the painting has been received as though it depicts a lesbian relationship (eg, the 19th century, for instance, a Louvre museum official reportedly covered up the “lewd” painting with a sheet).
2) A coded announcement of a royal pregnancy
- The fingers wrapped around Gabrielle’s nipple symbolizes her fertility, an allusion emphasized by the presence of the figure sewing baby’s clothes in the back of the painting.
- Most art historians interpret the painting as an announcement that Gabrielle is pregnant with the King’s illegitimate son.
3) A male hetero erotic fantasy
- The emphasis on the erotic possibilities between sisters.
- Gabrielle’s status as a mistress.
- Gabrielle sexualized and stripped even when relaying a pregnancy announcement.
- The boring fact that depictions of something resembling lesbian arousal is often in the eventual service of male heterosexuality.
So there you go! Have a nice weekend!